DESCRIPTION ---Dennis Farms is a small family-owned business. We produce pure maple syrup, confections made with maple syrup: maple sugar, coated nuts, maple cream(whipped maple syrup), candy, mustard, peanut butter and maple walnut topping. We also sell jellies and jams.
LOCATION---Rural Northwestern PA, about 50 miles south of Erie; an old 120 acre, mostly wooded farm.
STAFF---Kevin and Cindy Dennis
HISTORY "A hobby that got out of hand."
Kevin Dennis was introduced to maple syrup production in 9th grade. He and his dad tapped a handful of red maple trees(there were no sugar maples on the property) using hollow fiberglass arrow shafts for spouts and collecting in 5 gallon buckets. He boiled the sap in a large cast iron kettle over an open fire. The syrup was awful. It was black as coal, too thin, had ashes from the fire in it and had a metallic taste from the kettle, but Kevin's mother(being good mom) acted like it was good.
Kevin met Cindy in college, got married and got a job in manufacturing in the wood industry in upstate New York. A job opportunity moved Kevin to his current residence. While walking in the woods on their property, Kevin made a fateful comment to Cindy: "There are a lot of maple trees on the property, let's tap a few for a hobby." Well, 10 taps became 50, then 700, then 3000 and today 4000+. Sap processing evolved from a 5 gallon pot on a gas burner, to a custom made pan covering a full 4 burner stovetop. Today, they use a 3' x 12" evaporator(first one purchased in 1989) and a reverse osmosis machine.
Our early marketing and sales was more a matter of luck than planning. We first sold our excess syrup to family and friends, then tried arts and crafts festivals in the mid 1990's. We decided to try wholesale, so Kevin hooked a trailer to the family station wagon and drove to Chicago in January 1997 to try the Chicago Gift Show. He met a sales rep there who quickly got our products into most of the natural food stores in the area within a couple of years. In September 2000, they were so busy, Kevin quit his job and built a new production facility. The bulk of orders evolved from direct ship via UPS to shipping through large distributors by 2005. The economic crash of 2008 led to the large distributors to drop all small suppliers, including Dennis Farms, which now faced a financial crisis. To survive this, Kevin and Cindy went back to the arts and crafts festival circuit. They were selling at 50+ festivals per year by 2013. It was tough traveling and working every weekend from May through December, but it stabilized the finances. COVID-19 became a new crisis as almost every festival was cancelled. Working hard to learn and grow the business online helped the business to survive 2020. With the economy opening again, Kevin and Cindy are hopeful for better times.
NORTHWEST PENNSYLVANIA MAPLE PRODUCERS ASSOCIATION
FRANLIN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Registered and inspected by the FDA and the PA Dept. of Agriculture
2007 Gannon University Small Business Award Agribusiness of the Year
2012 Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Spring Fever Festival Best Food
2012 Fort Armstrong Folk Festival Certificate of Excellence